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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Simple and sweet
on 26 March 2011
Though there is some debate around the exact date Austen wrote this book, we can be pretty sure it is her first novel. And it does feel like a first attempt. This is by no means a bad thing, it just means it's simpler, less intricate than her better known novels.
We meet Catherine Morland at the tender age of 17, and see her entering society for the first time as she is invited to join the wealthy, childless Allens to Bath. Austen accentuates Catherines inexperience and innocence by making it clear that this is her very first experience of society, a far cry from her sheltered, isolated, happy, country upbringing. Catherine's innocence and simplicity is, however, deceptive. I believe that Austen has been extremely clever in creating this character, as she is an almost perfect picture of what every woman was at that age, thus creating an immediate bond between the reader and the heroine. She is awkward at the same time as being clever and spirited, she can be clumsy and immature at the same time as showing remarkable firmness and moral standard. Her imagination carries her away on fanciful tangents, yet she is gratifyingly shameful when real life catches up with her. I feel like all women would love Catherine because they will recognise a themselves in her.
This is a story of growing up and all the painful embaressments that can sometimes involve. It is a story of learning how to distinguish your friends from your enemies, and it is of course a story of love. I guess that the only thing that sits uncomfortably with me is that Catherine's story begins with her leaving her father's house and ends with her entering the house of her husband. You can say the same for all of Austen's books, but in Northanger Abby it's more pronounced, because it is much shorter and because there is less emphasis on romance than her other books. We see little of Catherine's feelings for Mr. Tilney that hint to anything stronger than a crush and she is married to him less than a year after she meets him. Compared to the slow-developing, intense love of Elizabeth Bennett or the enduring love of Anne Elliott, both older heroines than Catherine, this seems rather rushed and superficial, and perhaps a bit too easy. Besides, both Elizabeth and Anne reject the hero at first, showing their independence and their resolution to live happily as an individual, rather than unhappy as a wife. We never see this spirit in Catherine.
But make no mistake, I enjoyed this book, with the horrid siblings Isabella and John Thorpe, the one-tracked mind of Mrs. Allen, the stormy, intimidating and mysterious General Tilney and Catherine's well meaning, simple mother. Maybe it is not quite of Pride & Prejudice calliber, but it is a lovely little book none the less